Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Words to ponder

Offbeat Humor

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Au Fil De L'Eau by Philippe Charles Jacquet

Au Fil De L'Eau by Philippe Charles Jacquet

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Data Talks

The above proposition is occasionally useful.


This all started a couple of weeks ago when Critical Theory/Social Justice researcher James Lindsay mocked the insistence of such specimens that mathematics was a social construct and needed to be decolonized. This is most frequently synopsized in the claim that 2+2=5.

Of course it is all a matter of definitions. Anything can be anything depending on your agreed definitions. The technique of Critical Theory/Social Justice (CTSJ) devotees is make a claim outside reality and then back into it by changing the accepted definitions of words. It is a petty indulgence, witless and counterproductive, but it is what they do.

Twitter has been filled in the past week or so with CTSJ trying to justify their arbitrary position, providing example after example that they are true believers rather than real mathematicians. There are some reasonably good faith efforts by others trying to be even handed and show that under just the right narrow circumstances, the CTSJ faithful can be correct. And then, far outweighing them, there is the avalanche of mockery.

And while worthy of mockery for their dangerous totalitarian beliefs it has inadvertently driven a useful stress test. There is much knowledge we accept because it is usefully true but which we do not examine in detail or necessarily understand why it is usefully true.

Imagine being called upon to prove that the world was indeed round. We so broadly and consistently believe it to be round that the challenge is absurd. And yet when you sit down and try and formulate the argument and evidence that would compellingly demonstrate the truth of the proposition, it is surprisingly challenging. Probably as few as one in a hundred could do so without resort to Google.

The CTSJ are wrong (on just about everything) but their desperate and amateurish efforts to prove they are right serve as good foil for everyone else to dust-off their knowledge of mathematics and rediscover its beauty, precision, sophistication and utility. And its challenges.

This is not dissimilar to the experience with the Intelligent Design people back in 1980s or so. They are wrong but proving them wrong requires a lot more careful thinking than you would imagine. And the CTSJ are not nearly as good at making their argument as the Intelligent Design people are with theirs.

All of this calls to mind a footnote from long ago. It was from Principia Mathematica by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell. Published in 1910, it was their attempt to put mathematics on a firm and logic-based foundation, an effort which extended to three volumes. It is famous for the fact that not till page 379 in the first edition of Volume I do they find it safe to conclude:
From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has been defined, that 1 + 1 = 2.
379 pages is a long way to get to one plus one equals two. But well worth it.

And in fact they were not completely done. They didn't actually complete the proof until page 86 of Volume II. And when having finally proved it to their satisfaction, they observe, tongue in cheek "The above proposition is occasionally useful."

What would they have made of the CTSJ nonsense? Mincemeat, if it were Russell responding.

They never felt lonely where he was

From 1776 by David McCulough. Page 22.
The description that would come down the generations in the family was of a “cheerful, vigorous, thoughtful” young man who, like his father, loved a “merry jest or tale,” who did comic imitations of characters from Tristram Shandy, and relished the company of young ladies, while they, reportedly, “never felt lonely where he was.” Once, accused by a dancing partner of dancing stiffly, because of his bad leg, Nathanael replied, “Very true, but you see I dance strong.”

I see wonderful things

Turn on, tune in, drop out - lose your mind later on?

Hmmm. I was unaware of this phenomenon. From A New Look at Cohort Trend and Underlying Mechanisms in Cognitive Functioning by Hui Zheng. From the Findings:
CF [cognitive functioning] has been improving from the Greatest Generation to Late Children of Depression and War Babies, but then significantly declines since the Early-Baby Boomers and continues into Mid-Baby Boomers. This pattern is observed universally across genders, race/ethnicities, education groups, occupations, income and wealth quartiles. The worsening CF among Baby Boomers does not originate from childhood conditions, adult education, or occupation. It can be attributed to lower household wealth, lower likelihood of marriage, higher levels of loneliness, depression and psychiatric problems, and more cardiovascular risk factors (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease).
As I scanned this initially, of course I leapt to the supposition "Is this a consequence of 1960s and 1970s experimentation with hard and soft drugs?" but that is nowhere mentioned as a likely cause.

The causes identified are:
It can be attributed to lower household wealth, lower likelihood of marriage, higher levels of loneliness, depression and psychiatric problems, and more cardiovascular risk factors (e.g., obesity, physical inactivity, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease).
Lower household wealth simply does not makes sense to me. Greatest Generation to Late Children of Depression and War Babies would have all had lower household wealth at every comparable stage of their lives and yet their CF functioning demonstrated CF improvement.

It seems like the drivers of reduced CF might be 1) isolation (single status, loneliness, depression, etc.) and 2) poorer base health condition compared to earlier generations. Perhaps. Doesn't sound especially convincing. Likely to be contributory, but is it the whole story? Perhaps.

I wonder whether past history of drug experimentation might be related to later life depression and psychiatric problems? No idea.

I also wonder, is this simply a function of an age cohort's departure from traditional middle class values? That would cover increased singlehood and everything that follows from that. An unmooring from traditional mores might also be associated with elevated depression and psychiatric problems. A relaxation of conscientiousness and older habits such a regulars meals would likely be associated with obesity, physical inactivity leading to hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.

I am predisposed to believe that declining CF among Early-Baby Boomers and Mid-Baby Boomers might be associated with 1) an association with past drug experimentation or habitual usage at some point, and/or 2) departure from traditional behavioral norms which might have had significant prophylactic attributes which we failed to fully appreciate. Would be interesting to test by comparing quintile populations - is the decline in declining CF as prevalent among top quintile people who have held fast to traditional norms versus the other quintiles. Only time will tell.

Still, an interesting and disturbing discovery of declining CF among Early-Baby Boomers and Mid-Baby Boomers